JERUSALEM (Jul. 12)
Shimon Peres will be foreign minister and Prime Minister-designate Yitzhak Rabin will head the Defense Ministry himself in the new government the Labor Party leader presents to the Knesset on Monday.
Rabin won virtually unanimous approval for the slate of ministers from Labor’s Central Committee, which convened in a festive atmosphere Sunday at a Tel Aviv movie theater. There were only two naysayers of the more than 1,000 committee members voting. But Rabin appears to have run aground in his efforts to entice the right-wing Tsomet party to join his coalition. The party’s leader, Rafael Eitan, is angry that Rabin reneged on a promise to let him become education minister, a post he gave to Shulamit Aloni, leader of the left-wing Meretz bloc.
The appointment of Aloni, who is an outspoken opponent of the Orthodox religious establishment, has also angered the United Torah Judaism party, which is now unlikely to join the coalition for the foreseeable future.
Both Rabbi Eliezer Schach, spiritual leader of the party’s Degel HaTorah faction, and Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Hager, the Hasidic rebbe of Vishnitz, cited Rabin’s selection of Aloni in statements they issued Sunday forbidding the party from entering the coalition.
As a result, Rabin will have to govern with a slim 62-seat majority in the 120-member Knesset, with additional tacit support from the two Arab parties, which control five seats.
“I had hoped the government would be broader,” Rabin admitted in his remarks to the party faithful Sunday.
DISPUTE OVER AGRICULTURE POST
He said he was leaving both the Religious Affairs Ministry and the Labor and Welfare Ministry posts open, in the event that other parties wanted to join the government.
The National Religious Party has traditionally held the first post, and the second has been the preserve of Agudat Yisrael, now part of United Torah Judaism.
A small glimmer of hope emerged when Tsomet’s No. 2 Knesset member, Gonen Segev, told reporters Sunday that he personally favored resuming the negotiations with Labor. Tsomet would add eight seats to the coalition, making it virtually impossible for any one party to bring down the government.
But the bad news was that Ashkenazic leaders of Israel’s haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, community were trying to persuade the Sephardic Shas party to rescind its agreement with Labor.
Nevertheless, Shas spiritual leader Ovadia Yosef appeared to be determined to assert his independence from the Ashkenazic haredi leaders.
Rabin told the Central Committee there would be 17 ministers in the new Cabinet, making it one of the smallest governments in Israel’s history. All of the ministers received warm applause, with the loudest going to Peres.
The exception was Ya’acov Tsur, Rabin’s selection for agriculture minister, who was booed and catcalled, apparently by supporters of a rival candidate, Nissim Zvilli.
Zvilli complained to reporters that he was discriminated against because he had supported Peres against Rabin earlier this year in the contest for party leader. Political sources said he would be offered a deputy ministership at the Finance Ministry as compensation.
Rabin said he would not announce deputy ministerships or deputy premiers until he has consulted with the coalition partners.
Meanwhile, the Meretz bloc continued to put pressure on Rabin to find a suitable post for Knesset member Yossi Sarid, an outspoken dove. Sarid shocked his party Saturday by accusing Meretz leaders of “leaving me injured on the battlefield.”
At a Meretz meeting, Sarid said Rabin had exercised a personal veto against him and that Meretz leaders had gone along with it.
Aloni and Yair Tsaban, head of Meretz’s Mapam component, denied the accusation. But there was plainly tension within the party’s ranks.
Rabin, in his speech to the Labor Central Committee, ruled out the idea of electing Sarid as speaker of the Knesset, saying that Labor had the “right and the duty” to keep that post within its own ranks.
The Labor front-runner is Knesset member Shevach Weiss, a popular lawmaker and political scientist.